More than just serving gourmet food and the right ambiance, these restaurants take the overall dining experience to a higher level
Sunday Inquirer Magazine (September 16, 2007)
What makes restaurants awesome? One would say as long as it serves great food. However, “great food” is subjective and it varies with each person's experience and background. To be considered awesome, restaurants have to take the food and overall dining experience to a higher level. Food that leaves an indelible mark in your taste buds, experience that imprints lasting memories in your mind, and ambiance that carves a special place in one's heart for you to share it with every person that you meet.
Each restaurant is carefully chosen to be prestigiously included in this list. Each one serves gourmet food with the freshest ingredients. It combines nature elements, artifacts or a sense of history in its overall ambiance. Simply, these restaurants have a story to tell which spreads out via word-of-mouth. I can proudly say that you can only find these restaurants ONLY in the Philippines.
KUBLI SPRINGS @ KINABUHAYAN CAFé, DOLORES, QUEZON
The road to Kubli Springs is literally a road less traveled where you'll be glad you decided not to drive your sedan car. Flashlights, candles, mobile phones, and the moon are the only source of light. Occasionally, they would put up Christmas lights connected to portable battery source to make the place special. You will find yourself in the middle of the forest, with boulders as your neighbor. The spring water flows through your feet as you look up and appreciate a clear black sky with twinkling dots. You sit on rocks and make shift benches as you smell the steak grilled on the spot. Ah, this is the perfect time to play the acoustic guitar and sing with the barkada without shame and the fear of disturbing anybody.
For P500/ person, you get fresh salad with flowers, grilled steak, Jay's special rice and fruit platter. The meal ends with friendly Lambanog and special roast of Barako coffee. Water is served from a bamboo "faucet" with mineral water coming from the mountains. Drinking and taking a bath from fresh mineral water is one unique experience. Your dining experience is a mixed emotion of satisfaction, fear, and happiness. Somehow, you wished the night will never end.
Kinabuhayan Cafe Bed and Breakfast
Tel (042) 565 6828
Jay +63 917 368 0054
Winston +63 917 327 1106
You'll get excited every time you enter the entrance doors of Antonio's. It is like entering a magical portal to a world where any of the food you choose is something worth raving about. The service feels like you are in a six-star hotel where you don't have to worry about anything. Even going to the restroom is a chance to appreciate nature and its beauty. The positive energy in the place encourages conversation and it bears witness to thousands of memorable life stories.
You don't mind waiting for your food because you know that it is being prepared to perfection. The real flavor of the meat and ingredients stands out without any of the sauce overpowering its taste. Any of the wine selections seems to match with the food that you order. My favorite in Antonio's includes the Salad with Foie Gras, the steaks or sea bass dish, and the soufflé dessert to end the night. I envisioned our silver marriage anniversary to be held in Antonio's because of the food, service and its garden.
Mobile No.: +63917-899-2866
UGU BIGYAN, TIAONG, QUEZON
It still continues to be a secret place in the Tiaong area because Ugu never advertises the place. There are no road signs that points you to it and even their neighbors never realized that such place exist. One of the amazing things about Ugu's Pottery Garden Restaurant is that the entire place is a labor of love of the entire family. They designed everything from the huts, layout of the garden, the pottery designs, and its food concept.
Ugu is known for his dishes namely, Kulawo and Lato. Kulawo is charcoal grilled banana heart with a smokey flavor taste and it taste like Tuna while Lato is seaweed in vinegar. Both are traditional Filipino dishes that you seldom find in Metro Manila. It is home cooked Filipino food artistically presented and served in Ugu Bigyan's signature pottery. I do hope it remains to be a secret.
Address: 490 Alvarez Village , Brgy Lusacan, Tiaong, Quezon
Telefax: +63 42 545-9144
Manila #: +632 250-8416
ISLA NABUROT, GUIMARAS
Isla Naburot resort is like wine – the older it is the more exotic it becomes. Electricity is supplied by solar panels that can only support the incandescent bulbs in the room. Your mobile phone will be lucky to survive after one day because there are no charging stations nearby. All you have to do is swim in the clean beach, play sunka, and spend quality time with the family.
The main attraction is doing nothing and eating gourmet Filipino dishes prepared the traditional way. Fresh seafoods are patiently grilled in a way that their natural juices are kept intact inside the meat. You enjoy each meal with home made sinamak vinegar. Fruits are abundant specially the famous Guimaras mangoes. The taste of the food is enhanced by the fresh air environment and by the love of the people cooking it. It is a foodie heaven and I can’t wait to go back this summer.
Mobile #: Ana +63920-9275372
LA COCINA de TITA MONING’S, MANILA
As you enter the gates of this old mansion, you can't help but be transported back to the Old Rich ambiance in the Malacanang area. You are welcomed with drinks and pica pica in the patio before starting with the mini-tour of the mansion. You'll be fascinated with the antiques and the old-fashioned design of the living room, bedroom and especially, the bathroom. The dining area is small enough for a big group to easily dominate with their presence and laughter.
It is a treat to enjoy Spanish food cooked from recipes handed down from generations. You will leave La Cocina raving about its paella and its bread pudding. The former could rival the paella’s in Manila’s Spanish restaurants. The latter tastes like milk bread leche flan that melts in your mouth. The service is slow but sure. What is important is that they serve you with a smile and put every effort to make the experience memorable. I never forgot our La Cocina experience ever since January 2005.
A memorable dinner @ La Cocina de Tita Moning
Address: 315 San Rafael Street, San Miguel, Manila Philippines
Telephone Number: (632) 734-2141, 734-2146
Mobile #: (63917) 538-3490
KUSINA SALUD, SAN PABLO, LAGUNA
We need to give credit to Kusina Salud for making the Viaje del Sol travel route popular. It is the "Sonya's Garden" of San Pablo, Laguna but even better because of its wide selection of gourmet dishes. Occasionally, you could chat with Nina and Chef Paul Poblador about the story of Kusina Salud. The place would always smile back anywhere you point your camera. It combines the odd pieces of furniture and accessories with different style harmoniously.
For me, the best time to go is breakfast as early as 9am and this will serve as your jump off point to explore the Laguna and Quezon area. I long for the hamonado-style longganisa, fried adobo flakes and banggus belly for breakfast. They serve buffets on special occasions but I still prefer to order from the ala carte menu. Massage service are available which would be perfect if you make this your last stop before heading back to Manila.
[Viaje del Sol Series.1] Breakfast @ Kusina Salud
285 Bgy. Sta. Cruz (Putol), San Pablo City, Laguna
Mobile No: Jerome @ +63 921 772-6985
Tel# +632 699-5035 or +63 49 246-6878
VIEUX CHALET, ANTIPOLO
Operating for more than 20 years, Vieux Chalet remains to be mysterious. This place is literally a house cum restaurant on top of the hill in Antipolo. Your patience in looking for this place will be rewarded by an awesome view of Manila especially at night. It never failed to impress the people I recommended to go here to celebrate their special occasion.
What keeps me going back to this place is the passion that Susan Hassig brings in preparing the food. You'll never forget the taste and softness of the homemade pasta or the home baked fresh bread and homegrown cheeses. Some people go to Vieux Chalet for simply the taste of its refreshing lemongrass drink or to indulge in its version of the Osso Bucco. This is our favorite hang out if we want to escape and eat good gourmet food.
Are you a Vieux Chalet virgin?
Vieux Chalet Swiss Restaurant
Taktak Road, Antipolo City
Tel# +632 697-0396,
Mobile # +63 917 856-5175
CLAUDE TAYAG’s BALE DUTUNG, PAMPANGA
You've never tasted Pampanga cuisine until you have eaten in Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung house. This is one of those long lunches you love to have with your friends where you won't even noticed the hours that passed by. Once you arrived, you will be greeted with a frozen baby cologne towel and steamed peanuts that will bring back memories of your childhood years. The entire house is a showroom of Claude Tayag's creation and a glimpse into his artistic brilliance. You'll never get tired of wandering around and taking photos at each artistic piece that you see.
Mr. and Mrs. Claude Tayag will serve you personally with their simple kapampangan dishes served with an artistic presentation. Also, they will entertain you with the history of how they built Bale Dutung. My favorite dishes include the catfish with buro and green mustasa, and Pampanga's version of the Paella. The meal ends with a simple Paradiso dessert made of smoked ube, camote, macapuno on sweet Carabao milk pastillas. After the meal, it is nice to lazy around his house and chat with Claude Tayag to know him a little deeper before saying goodbye.
CHARLEY'S at LIPA CITY, BATANGAS
I fell in love with the place after seeing the beautiful horses at Leviste’s Equestrian Farm in Lipa, I usually see the tired horses in Baguio and in Tagaytay and I never thought of seeing these thorough breeds in Philippine soil. Lunch or Dinner is courtesy of Les Roche trained Chef Popit de Leon who is passionate about cooking his foodie creations either in his Makati Condo or in Charley’s on weekends. Popit uses the fresh herbs in Charley’s garden as a prerequisite ingredient in all the food served in the farm. Often times, you’ll get a personal tour of the entire farm by Charley herself after the meal.
Unfortunately, the place recently closed down its doors to out-of-town diners. Popit now cooks exclusively in his Makati Condo. This is a simple tribute and thank you for becoming part of our foodie memories, accompanied by a wish that hopefully it opens its doors once again.
Popit De Leon
Mobile #: +63917-893-1938
ENTALULA ISLAND, EL NIDO, PALAWAN
Just imagine having an exclusive picnic with gourmet food in an island with white sands that is better than Boracay’s. Entalula island in El Nido is definitely a piece of paradise that you can enjoy privately for lunch or dinner. Everything is setup for you and you can request what food you would like to have. Your imagination is the limit to how creative you want the experience to be.
It is worth saving for and this is my main motivation for hopefully going back to El Nido resorts. When you book an El Nido vacation make sure to reserve the island already for lunch or dinner. Next time, I would like to spend dinner here with my wife and just lay down in its pristine white sands with limestone cliffs as backdrop.
For more information about these restaurants, please visit www.ourawesomeplanet.com.
Anton is the publisher of Our Awesome Planet (OAP), one of the top 10 blogs in the Philippines. OAP is a photo food and travel blog about Manila's food and travel secrets shared through word of mouth. He is known as a food critic and has recently been passionate about running marathons. Currently, he works and loves his job as an IT manager in P&G Philippines.